OCEAN CITY—With the highly-anticipated Oceans Calling three-day music festival later this month rapidly approaching, resort officials this week worked on the plan for public transportation alternatives when the throngs of people leave the venues each night.
The inaugural Oceans Calling three-day music festival featuring several nationally known and popular acts is set for September 30-October 2 in and around the Inlet and the fishing pier. The concerts will go on each day and all day, culminating with the major acts, including Dave Matthews, the Lumineers, Alanis Morrisette and OAR, for example, each night.
The event is expected to draw 40,000 people to the resort over the weekend, which will likely create some logistical challenges for the town’s transportation system, especially when the concerts for the major acts conclude each night. The conventional thinking is fans will trickle into the three-stage venues throughout each day, but the larger events in prime time will draw the biggest crowds and create exit challenges for concertgoers and the town attempting to accommodate them.
It has already been decided the Boardwalk trams will not run during the Oceans Calling weekend because of the congestion issues they can cause on a Boardwalk that will likely be flooded with the show’s fans following the concerts. Last week, the Mayor and Council voted to allow bicycles on the Boardwalk during the course of the event, although it was decided most would likely have to walk their bikes until they got through the congested areas.
During Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting, members debated if the town’s municipal transit system would be able to meet the demand during the three-day event. It’s no secret the Town of Ocean City, like most jurisdictions, has struggled with staffing issues for many of its departments including transportation all summer and, as a result has seen fewer deployments although ridership has been fairly consistent. Operations Manager George Peake said during Tuesday’s meeting every available driver and bus would be deployed during the three-day Oceans Calling music festival, particularly at closing time. Peake said the town advertises expected wait times, but that will be challenging during the festival. He also said service will be provided to the Park-and-Ride facility in West Ocean City to bring in and drop off concertgoers.
“We’re going to be putting more out there on the road than we’re actually publishing,” he said. “The Park-and-Ride service will be taken care of. We’re making all of the arrangements.”
Transit Manager Rob Shearman agreed the town would be putting out every bus and every driver it had available during the three-day weekend concert series and hoped it would be enough to handle the exiting crowds.
“We’re going to be running as much as we can staff,” he said. “There is no number of buses that will probably be enough when those big concerts let out.”
Shearman said the municipal bus supervisors and dispatchers would likely have to be creative in the deployment of the available transit system resources. That could require quicker turnaround times to get buses back into the downtown area.
“We can’t have every bus available heading to 146th Street,” he said. “We’re going to deploy for the most buses in the high demand areas. Some will probably do a flip at the convention center and some will do a flip at 94th Street. We’ll keep the buses heading downtown to keep people moving.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said the town’s transit system would simply have to do the best it can during the three-day event, which he compared to a major sporting event with tens of thousands of people exiting around the same time.
“We just need to tell people relying on our transit system to expect delays,” he said. “This is a major event and people realize that. It’s like leaving a Ravens game. We’re going to do everything we can.”
Meehan said he has learned anecdotally that many of the Boardwalk and downtown accommodations were already filling up in advance of the three-day festival later this month. He said many of those concertgoers will be able to walk back and forth between the venues and not have to rely on mass transit. Many others will rely on rideshare platforms such as Uber, and others will ride bikes to the various concerts.
“It sounds like all of the Boardwalk hotels are full,” he said. “We’re going to have a tremendous number of people walking around downtown in and around this event. People know what the expectations are. We’ll do the best we can.”
It’s not unusual for the town to ramp up its mass transit resources for major events, but the Oceans Calling festival promises to create unique challenges. City Manager Terry McGean likened the Oceans Calling closing time to a typical Fourth of July fireworks show ending rather than the popular OC Air Show.
“It’s not like the air show, which is much more spread out,” he said. “You can see it from miles around. This is a more concentrated site. It’s going to be more like the Fourth of July when the fireworks are over.”